Hooray for Captain Spaulding

Goddamn, motherfucker got blood all over my best clown suit.

The first time I was exposed to Sid Haig was in “House of 1,000 Corpses.”

I regret to admit that it’s really the first time I’d ever seen Haig, and it was quite the introduction to such an enormous cinematic presence that was in over a hundred films and television projects. Say what you want about Rob Zombie’s cinematic outputs, but one of his crowning achievements is the creation of Captain Spaulding. Thanks in no small part to Sid Haig’s immense performance, Captain Spaulding is one of the banner modern horror villains that pretty much grabs the spotlight every single time he’s on screen in “House” and “The Devil’s Rejects” and yet it’s still never enough.

Captain Spaulding (whose namesake comes from the 1930 Marx Brothers comedy “Animal Crackers”) is a character we only meet in the beginning of “House” and Haig is able to take so much from such a small screen time. Captain Spaulding is primarily a character that acts as something of a framing device in “House” providing the amazing prologue involving a botched robbery of his fried chicken place. He then sets the stage for the slaughter of its cast of characters before they fall in to the clutches of the Firefly Clan. Like everyone else, when “House” was finished, I wondered if Captain Spaulding was a part of the Firefly Clan, and if perhaps we’d ever see more of him from Rob Zombie. Suffice to say the final scene of “House” confirms such and Haig is given a much larger role.

Captain Spaulding is an amalgam of the best of Tobe Hooper, serving as a fried chicken connoisseur who also runs a road side attraction. He gets his advertising to his customers dressed as a circus Clown, and with his heavy southern twang and humongous smile, Spaulding is able to hide out in plain sight while his family raises hell. Haig as Spaulding is a giant man who could easily take any intruder down with immense zeal and greets everyone with the large smile and humongous eyes that seep right through his unnerving clown make up. If you ever want to get an idea of the heights Haig was capable of as an actor and performer, the DVD menu of “House of 1,000 Corpses” is a wonderful display of his improvisational skills. If you leave the menu on long enough, rather than play music in a continuous loop, Captain Spaulding basically lingers on screen antagonizing the audience and mocking them until they actually start the feature.

You can sense even Rob Zombie loved Captain Spaulding as he also made him a part of his animated feature “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto” and dispensed of all surprises by making him a larger part of the “House” sequel “The Devil’s Rejects.” While Captain Spaulding is more Haig than mad clown in this film, Haig does don the make up every now and then. His entrance in “The Devil’s Rejects” is like a thunderstorm as he crashes in to the movie clocking a mom (the one and only PJ Soles) in front her young son and terrorizes him, bellowing with laughter as the son runs for his life. Where in “House” he was more the spider that trapped the flies, here he’s the head spider who has a firm grasp on his family. Shocking enough he’s the doting father to Baby, and brother to Otis Firefly, and he leads them out of the clutches of law enforcement after the flee from a raid on their Firefly compound.

There’s not a lot of indication on who Baby’s mother was, but considering the way Otis calls Baby a “hot, young piece of ass” the Firefly clan don’t seem too concerned about sexual limitations. In either case, Spaulding gets a much bigger piece of the pie in “The Devil’s Rejects” where he’s allowed to flourish alongside Otis and Baby and help emphasize the twisted family dynamic that the trio shares. Unusual and demented as it may be, the Fireflys are still a family, and they stay that way until the very end when they’re gunned down on the road “Bonnie and Clyde” style. Spaulding is the absolute heart and brains of the Firefly clan, the one who always has a plan up his sleeve, and puts things on the right track after Baby and Otis have had their own brand of fun in the motel.

Sid Haig is going to be remembered for a lot of things by a lot of people, and his loss is still being felt in the horror community. He was a gentle giant and a hard working performer who gave everything for every performance, no matter what movie he was in. In an era where horror fans are still looking for the next big horror boogeyman, Captain Spaulding filled the spot for a marvelous, making us laugh, and spooking us to our core with his appetite for chaos and sadism. It’s tough to imagine anyone else that could have brought Rob Zombie’s vision to life on screen, and it’ll be tough to imagine a world where Captain Spaulding is no longer able to deliver his mayhem.